One of the most storied franchises in the NBA, the Boston Celtics, have not had a fabulous start to the 2021-22 NBA season. The Cs are treading water just below .500, with a 17-19 record, good for the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference. This year’s team looks nothing like the franchise that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020 and the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2019. Since the 2020-2021 season, the Celtics have been in a downhill spiral, and it hasn’t been pretty. What’s changed?
Danny Ainge resigned from his role as President of Basketball Operations in the 2021 offseason, a role he’s held since 2003. Ainge was crucial in bringing together the championship team in 2008 that featured Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Now, Ainge is an executive for the Utah Jazz, while Brad Stevens has taken over his role. The jury’s still out on how effective of a General Manager Stevens is, as within 48 hours of assuming the position he traded Kemba Walker for Al Horford. Because Stevens became GM and left his role as head coach, it left a vacancy in that department.
The Celtics head coaching job went to Ime Udoka, who played in the NBA and overseas for some time. He’s been an assistant coach for USA basketball, where he’s met many current Celtics, like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Based on the current sample size of games he’s coached and his player’s execution, it’s too early to make a decision on how effective Udoka is as a Head Coach.
While there were major changes within the Celtics’ staff, some of the biggest problems come from the players themselves. Tatum and Brown are the stars of the team, All-NBA talents, yet it doesn’t feel like they are natural number one guys on a championship team. They’re very young, and not natural leaders who keep the team in check.
Because the Celtics roster as a whole is young, they want to play a certain style of basketball, which doesn’t always lead to winning results. John Karalis, a writer for the Boston Sports Journal, made a few notes in his podcast (Locked on Celtics Podcast) about the Celtics, many of which I found very informative:
- The Celtics as a team are taught new concepts, and once they comprehend them they perform quite well. The problem is that once they move on to a new concept or drill, they forget what they’ve learned before and revert to their old habits. This is more on the players than Udoka in my opinion, because if they want to improve as players, they need to continuously practice and improve.
- Robert Williams, also known as the Time Lord, is an incredible, rim-running athletic big man. There are many young guys in the league who display the same skillset as Williams, such as Nicolas Claxton of the Brooklyn Nets and Daniel Gafford of the Washington Wizards. However, one problem with Williams is that he relies too heavily on his athleticism. He’s easy to bait with pump fakes, and he doesn’t have any deadly post-up moves that can get a team whenever they need points, like Robin Lopez and his hook shot or Hakeem Olajuwon with his dream shake.
- The team doesn’t have a winning mentality. Players can try to fix this by themselves, but often times it takes a new point of view or personality to change how a team views basketball. The question is, are there any players that can bring a winning mentality the Celtics can trade for at the trade deadline?
The Celtics need a pass-first point guard that can be a great locker room leader and a player with a winning mentality. The Celtics have lots of guards, such as Dennis Schroder, Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, and Josh Richardson, but none of them specialize in passing. They are all relatively young, and veterans have a greater perspective on the game of basketball, and more importantly, life. Some of these players may need to be traded, and others could be developed into quality players down the road. Smart’s defense is important to this team, and Pritchard has lots of potential, but I’m not especially impressed with the two new recruits for the team, Schroder and Richardson.
Patrick Beverley could be one of those point guards, but I feel his skillset is too similar to Smart’s, and Smart is younger then Beverley. Ish Smith of the Charlotte Hornets is a pass first point guard and great locker room presence, but his defense could prove to be an issue. Ironically, the ever controversial Ben Simmons would be the perfect player for this Celtics team; as long as they don’t have to give up Tatum or Brown. Simmons is a 6’10” point guard who is so extremely pass first that he will pass up open shots to get the ball to his teammates. He’s made All-Defensive teams, so it’s clear he can play solid defense, and as long as he doesn’t act up off the court or refuse to play, I think Simmons could give the Celtics the big three they need.
Another problem with the Celtics is that they don’t really feel like a basketball team to me. They’re more like an AAU squad, with a bunch of players dropped together on the same team and told to figure it out. Their current roster consists of:
Robert Williams III
With so many powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference, it feels like the Celtics don’t have a real identity anymore. The core of Tatum, Brown, and Smart has stayed the same since 2018, but the team that was on the brink of a dynasty is long gone. The team has way too many small forwards, and watching them on the court, the team doesn’t gel at all. They have enough talent that they’ll make the play-in at a minimum, but if they don’t switch things up at all, management is wasting another year of Tatum and Brown as a duo.
I know it feels like Simmons is in trade rumors everywhere, but I feel like he could truly be a good fit in Boston. Plus, other than this, I’ve only written about Simmons trade rumors once, meaning I only suggest trades when I think it could be a real possibility. The last thing I want for the Celtics is mediocrity, but if nothing changes, this group of players (which I can’t in good conscience call a team) is on track for the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
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